Marshall Soper – the Gifted Journeyman

When Marshall Soper, the former Socceroo great, witnessed the demise of Harry Souttar with his ACL injury in the recent Socceroo World Cup home clash against Saudi Arabia on November 11th, his thoughts flashed back to the 29th March, 1987 when he was playing with Sydney Olympic against Sydney City.

With one turn of his body early in the first half, Soper was writhing on the ground in agony after tearing the cruciate ligament in his right knee and was forced to sit out the season following a complete knee reconstruction.

It was ironic that Luke Brattan, the Sydney FC holding midfielder, also befell the same fate in the FA Cup clash against Sydney Olympic on 24th November.

A lot of water has fallen under the bridge since Soper captivated the football community after his first appearance for Apia-Leichhardt in the 1981 NSL season, followed by his rapid rise to Socceroo stardom in 1982.

Who could ever forget the matches against Juventus in 1984 when the Italian champions toured Downunder.

His performances, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne were simply mesmerising as he toyed with the Juventus defence, leading to the expulsion of Cabrini, the famous Italian left back, who had no answer to Soper’s skills in Sydney.

Yet Soper’s failure to capitalise on his huge talent was also exemplified after his outstanding display on the Socceroo’s tour match against Arsenal at Highbury in November, 1984. On the night he gave the England left back and captain, Kenny Samson, nightmares while scoring two goals for the Socceroos in a 3-2 loss to the Gunners.

In August, 1985, Red Star Belgrade, the Yugoslav champions toured Australia and the goal Soper scored at St George Stadium in the 4-1 win by the Socceroos was world class.

Beating two Red Star defenders at the half way mark, Soper sprinted to a position just outside the penalty area. The advancing keeper tried to narrow the angle but Soper pushed the ball with the outside of his right foot into the corner of the net.

First team players and coaches Marshall Soper front row, 6th from the right

 

It was at this time, people recognised that this man was no mere mortal as he made the big name Red Star players look ordinary that day.

Soper’s life has always been dedicated to the game he loves in his extraordinary playing career and for the many years he has spent in technical coaching roles in Australia and Asia.

He returned to Australia in March, 2020 from his three year stint as Technical Director at Yangon United in Myanmar due to Covid 19 and is currently weighing the options in his football life.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Marshall Soper discusses his experiences in Myanmar, the standard of football in Australia and how it can be improved, reflects on his playing career and outlines his aspirations in football.

ROGER SLEEMAN

In your three years in Myanmar, what was your experience of facilities, youth development and football standards?

MARSHALL SOPER

Like the rest of Asia, the country is pouring money into football while the investment in Australia is at a standstill.

Yangon United has a full time professional setup for the 1st team, U 21’s and U/18’s. They own their stadium, have an accommodation facility adjacent to the stadium complex which has 120 rooms, full time chefs, restaurants, coffee shops, swimming pool and gymnasium and support staff.

I had my own driver and the players would walk from their accommodation to the training ground while the club has a fleet of buses to transport supporters to matches.

The club plays in the National League and in 2019 we played in the Asian Champions League and topped the group.

The first year I joined the club, they hadn’t won anything but in that same season, they captured the three domestic trophies.

It was a full on job for me and not without stress levels while working with coaches, adapting players to professionalism and training seven days a week, sometimes twice a day.

The youth teams played during the week and the 1st team at the weekend so I was either at a training session or a match.

It’s a country which is crying out for help and so committed to youth development which is sadly not the case in Australia.

Here, there’s not the push to develop youth because clubs want to win on the day, rather than having a long term plan. Hence the drop in standards of our national team and our resulting poorer ranking in Asia where we struggle to beat countries like Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Marshall Soper addressing coaches & players regarding pre-season

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

You attended the Socceroos clash with Saudi Arabia on November 11th.

What were your impressions?

MARSHALL SOPER

If you look at the positions the players take up on the pitch, there seems to be a startling resemblance to what the National Curriculum espouses.

The game is still too basic as we use very wide players to cross the ball from three quarters of the pitch at best and there is no attempt to beat opponents, especially through the middle of the park.

On the night, Mitch Duke and Jamie McClaren should’ve started the match to attack the heart of the Saudi’s defence, particularly with the speed of Martin Boyle.

If it hadn’t been for that great block in the first half by Harry Souttar which precipitated his injury ,Australia would’ve probably lost the match but overall our tactics were negative, while the Saudis were perfectly prepared and played us out of our comfort zone.

They dominated the middle of the park and we failed to penetrate from the wide areas.

The truth is, the Saudis had enough of the ball and chances in front of goal to win the game easily.

ROGER SLEEMAN

I performed a basic statistical analysis of A-League players four years ago and discovered that only 10% of them were competent on both sides.

Can you explain this, and what responsibility do technical directors have to improve this situation?

MARSHALL SOPER

At the moment, there is a poor understanding of how to develop the complete player in both the A-League and at NPL level.

As I mentioned previously, the emphasis is on winning rather than developing and in the A-League we’re importing questionable overseas players who are earning easy cash, rather than producing youth players of high quality.

In terms of the youth policy, are we coaching the coaches correctly?

Also, are we appointing people in TD roles with the right knowledge and philosophy to develop players to their maximum potential?

Do these people understand the full spectrum e.g. do they know what it’s like to be injured, what is required of a technical player or a hard working player to be successful and can they develop two sided players.

I doubt if we have the right people in this country to accomplish these objectives.

ROGER SLEEMAN

While you have been back in Australia, have you been approached to coach?

MARSHALL SOPER

I’ve had a number of calls and conversations from A-League clubs who have talked about the position of striker or front third coach but I prefer to look at starting my own academy where I can determine the structure and provide a transparent pathway to European clubs.

Recently, I signed an agreement with 90.1.1 Management Agency which is located in Central Europe and my name is now on their website.

The organisation is a group of licensed football agents who carve a pathway for young players and suitable movement for established players.

I want to cater for quality European players to come to Australia and Asia and for young players from Australia to play in Europe and Asia.

Currently, Kusini Yengi from Adelaide United is managed by the group.

 

Team coaches together with Marshall Soper for weekly match review

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

Not a year goes by when football supporters ask the question as to why you withdrew from the 1985 World Cup qualifiers. It’s firmly believed, if you, Craig Johnston and Tony Dorigo had been available for the two home and away matches against Scotland, our chances to qualify for Mexico,1986 would have increased considerably.

Your comment.

MARSHALL SOPER

I have to carry this burden on my shoulders but we were receiving a very poor pay deal with the national team compared to what the clubs were paying us.

If we were injured for the Socceroos we would’ve received small compensation so we had to ask ourselves, was it worth playing when you were feeding a family?

The answer for me at the time was no and remember there was no PFA in existence at the time to support the players.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Your rejection of the Arsenal manager, Don Howe’s contract offer on the Socceroo world tour in November, 1984 after you scored two goals against the Gunners and played mind games with the England captain and left back, Kenny Samson, is still something your followers can’t understand .

Can you please explain?

MARSHALL SOPER

I had other offers from other clubs, apart from Arsenal and as I look back at what could’ve been, the matter becomes purely hypothetical.

Did I make a difference in Australian football? History records, I was the only player to win five National Cup competitions, two each with Sydney Olympic and Parramatta Eagles and one with Apia-Leichhardt.

UEFA and FIFPRO Europe pledge to strengthen their collaboration

In Stuttgart, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin met with David Terrier, President of FIFPRO Europe, and members of the FIFPRO Europe board in an attempt to improve the working relationship between the two parties and professional footballers in Europe.

Key topics covered included football governance, player workload trends, and the growth of women’s football.

The two organisations had plans previously to mend the relationship and focus solely on employment matters affecting male and female players within the European football pyramid.

The meeting not only emphasised the growing relationship between UEFA and FIFPRO Europe, but it also highlighted greater player inclusion in decision-making processes, giving them more agency around matters that affect them.

This will be touched on by creating a new player-specific forum for important discussions with UEFA, complimenting the annual UEFA Convention on European football’s future.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin spoke on the meeting and the progress it will make on the sustainability of football in Europe.

“Since David Terrier’s election as President of FIFPRO Europe, we have covered significant ground in our collaborative efforts. We may not agree on every issue and work remains to be done, but our progress across a wide range of areas is evident,” he said in a statement.

“In recent months, we have successfully implemented measures to tackle issues affecting players in both men’s and women’s football while also improving governance structures. This ongoing dialogue is essential as we strive to address the evolving challenges in football.”

David Terrier, President of FIFPRO Europe expressed a similar sentiment about the importance of these healthy discussions with UEFA.

“Our collaboration with UEFA is going from strength to strength and I would like to thank Aleksander Čeferin in understanding the key issues facing players today,” Terrier explained in a statement.

“Our primary objective is to create a healthy and sustainable environment for all players in Europe, and we very much see UEFA as a key partner to build long-lasting solutions.

“We look forward to achieving more, tangible outcomes for the players we represent and, generally, for the betterment of professional football across the continent.”

The solidarity-based football pyramid in Europe also ensures that benefits and resources are distributed across all European leagues, players and clubs so they can properly tackle these issues at all levels.

It is a fantastic step forward in improving the quality of European football by listening to players on what they find most challenging in the professional game, and it will be interesting to see how the player forum affects decisions in the near future.

Brisbane Roar confirm multi-year apparel deal with Cikers Australia

Brisbane Roar confirmed a multi-year deal with Cikers Australia to become the club’s new Apparel Partner, leaving behind New Balance who first joined the Roar in 2021-22.

The deal, the most lucrative in Brisbane Roar’s history, will have the club in Cikers Australia kit and apparel for the next three seasons.

Cikers will produce a wider variety of custom playing, training, and casual wear for Roar players, staff, members, and supporters.

Cikers Australia is an apparel company that offers services to local clubs, schools, universities and organisations with their high quality teamwear manufactured to the very highest standards and competitively priced.

The company currently also partner with A-League Champions Central Coast Mariners and future National Second Division club Wollongong Wolves, offering them both club record multi-year deals.

It’s clear Cikers Australia is playing a big role in Australian football on the manufacturing side and will look to strike more deals in the future with CEO Victor Wang claiming it is in their best interest to build a name through the world game down under.

Zac Anderson, Brisbane Roar COO expressed his excitement on the possibilities of this new deal for the club’s kit designs in its 20th season.

“We are thrilled to join forces with Cikers Australia. This partnership marks a pivotal step towards taking more control over our Club’s merchandise and retail strategy.” Anderson said in a club statement.

“Our collaboration is focused upon delivering products that represent our Club’s great history and connection to Queensland.

“We are committed to excellence, and together with Cikers Australia, we aim to deliver apparel that our players and supporters are proud of.”

The club have promised special, revamped pieces of merchandise to celebrate the club’s 20th season competing in the A-League by representing the club’s origins in their kit designs.

In 2023, Cikers released a design for the Mariners in their Australia Cup campaign by paying homage to the original Mariners kit of the inaugural 2005/06 season A-League season, and it was met with praise from the fanbase so expect similar in this deal.

Both parties share the same values of growing the game and selecting designs that speak to the history of the club making this a brilliant deal for the Brisbane Roar who have recently struck many good business deals.

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